County seeks to merge outdated 911 systems

Some Lexington County lawmakers are seeking to give three communities more time to decide on continuing to handle calls for emergency help.

A proposal that the communities must agree to any change in the current 911 setup awaits Senate review after House approval.

“It puts them in position to work things out,” said Rep. Kenny Bingham, the Cayce Republican who sponsored the proposal at the request of leaders in some communities affected.

The move comes as Batesburg-Leesville, Cayce and West Columbia remain undecided on merging into the county’s 911 service or staying independent.

No agreement is imminent even though those communities face a demand from County Council to make a decision by July 1.

The push for change comes after county officials decided a 21-year-old deal that allowed the communities to run separate 911 centers is outdated duplication.

Overseeing the local centers costs more than $200,000 annually that county officials say should go to improve service countywide.

Leaders in the three communities prefer to continue operating on their own but aren’t sure if that is affordable.

“The idea of keeping things status quo has been our preference from the beginning,” Batesburg-Leesville Town Manager Ted Luckadoo said.

Cayce’s center handles calls for police and firefighters while those in the other two communities do so only for police.

Officials in each community say their dispatchers provide faster response due to familiarity with local landmarks that callers typically give instead of addresses.

But officials at one municipal agency that recently switched to county service say there’s been no problem when that happens because of equipment that pinpoints the site from where a call comes.

“It’s worked very well for us,” West Columbia Fire Chief Wyatt Coleman said.

County officials also handle calls for ambulances and medical care in Batesburg-Leesville, Cayce and West Columbia as well as all calls in unincorporated areas and 11 other towns.

Overall, there were 353,000 calls for help last year across the county, with 6 percent of those in the three communities, officials say.

A look is under way at various arrangements satisfactory to all sides, County Administrator Joe Mergo said.

Any community that opts to remain independent will be given time to make sure its 911 service is running well before county assistance ends, he said.

The proposal guaranteeing the communities must be comfortable with changes is aimed at making the county-imposed deadline become flexible if necessary, some legislators said.

“It’s reassurance that they will have time to work it out,” said Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-West Columbia.

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